Gary Filmon (born August 24, 1942) is a Manitoba politician. He was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba from 1983 to 2000, and served as Premier from 1988 to 1999.
Born in Winnipeg, Filmon was educated at the University of Manitoba and subsequently worked as a civil engineer. He entered public life in 1975, being elected to the Winnipeg City Council. For the next four years, Filmon was a prominent member of Winnipeg's Independent Citizen's Election Committee , an unofficial alliance of right-wing Liberal and Progressive Conservative interests in the city.
In 1979, Filmon won a by-election to the Manitoba legislature in the riding of River Heights, held after the resignation of former Tory leader Sidney Spivak. On January 16, 1981, Filmon was appointed Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs and Minister of the Environment in the government of Sterling Lyon.
Lyon's Tories were defeated later in 1981 by the New Democratic Party under Howard Pawley, though Filmon was re-elected in the new riding of Tuxedo. He was elected to replace Lyon as party leader in 1983, defeating Brian Ransom and Clayton Manness at a delegated convention (see Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba leadership conventions). At the time, Filmon was considered to be on the party's progressive wing. Supporters of Ransom would later allege that Filmon's campaign team had sponsored Manness's candidacy as a means of splitting the conservative vote.
Filmon's Tories narrowly lost the 1986 election, winning 26 seats against 30 for the NDP. This election was generally regarded as lacking in defining issues, and the two major parties were not seen as having many ideological divisions between them.
Howard Pawley's slender majority government fell in 1988 when a disgruntled NDP backbencher voted with the opposition on a confidence motion. In the subsequent election, the Manitoba Liberal Party rose from one seat to twenty, taking seats away from both the Tories and the NDP in the process. The Tories dropped to 25 seats, but nevertheless emerged as the largest party in the legislature and formed a minority government. Filmon himself was almost defeated by a Liberal candidate in Tuxedo.
The 1988-1990 parliament was most notable for its debates on the Meech Lake Accord, which would have confirmed the distinct status of Quebec within Canada. The Pawley government had supported this initiative, but Filmon was initially opposed to it, and the Manitoba assembly refused to ratify the treaty (rather to the embarrassment of Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney). Filmon eventually agreed to a compromise deal negotiated by Jean Charest in 1990, but this came to nothing when New Democratic MLA Elijah Harper refused to grant unanimous consent for debate before the bill's deadline. (Harper objected to the fact that the Accord did not recognize the rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples. See "Meech Lake Accord" and "Elijah Harper" for further details.)
In other matters, Filmon was closer to the policies of the Mulroney government. He supported the 1987 free trade initiative, and worked in favour of the Charlottetown Accord (a successor to Meech Lake) in 1992.
Filmon called an election in 1990, and campaigned on the need for a majority government. Despite the increased unpopularity of the Mulroney government at the federal level, Filmon's Tories were able to win over many voters who had supported the Liberals in 1988. His party won thirty seats, and the NDP re-emerged as the official opposition with twenty.
While not an ideological conservative in the tradition of Margaret Thatcher, Filmon nonetheless presided over an austerity program of budget cuts. His government's measures resulted in a balanced budget in 1995, the province's first in 20 years. Filmon also permitted suburban regions to break away from the amalgamated city of Winnipeg, reversing the policies initiated by the Edward Schreyer government in the early 1970s.
Despite governments cuts to social programs and urban development, Filmon's Tories were able to win re-election in 1995. This was due in part to the unpopularity of Bob Rae's NDP government in neighbouring Ontario, and concerns that the Manitoba NDP would govern in a similar manner if elected. Subsequently, the Filmon government privatized the province's telephone system, mandated balanced budgets, and took actions limiting the power of teacher's and nurse's unions. While Filmon avoided the excessive rhetoric of Ontario Premier Mike Harris (1995-2002), there were nevertheless strong similarities to the reforms instituted by these governments in the late 1990s.
In the late 1990s, the reputation of the Filmon government was damaged by a scandal involving vote-rigging in the 1995 election. A number of independent "aboriginal issues" candidates were alleged to have been commissioned by Progressive Conservative organizers to run in NDP ridings, in an attempt to split the left-of-centre vote. Filmon was not personally implicated, but a number of his senior aides were. Manitoba also experienced increased unemployment during this period, with Filmon's popularity suffering as a result.
Notwithstanding these setbacks, Filmon sought a fourth mandate in late 1999. During this campaign, he announced that his government would undertake a further right-wing policy shift if re-elected. He promised half a billion dollars in new tax cuts, while claiming that he could simultaneously re-invest an identical amount into health and education. This announcement was greeted with skepticism from many voters, and the Tories lost to Gary Doer's New Democrats by 32 seats to 24 (the Liberals were reduced to one seat, as many Liberal voters from 1995 shifted to the NDP). Filmon resigned as party leader in 2000, and stood down as an MLA in the same year.
Filmon subsequently worked as a consultant for the Exchange Group . In 2003, he was commissioned by the government of British Columbia to undertake a survey of forest fires in that province.